Updated: May 11
My love for travelling on airplanes started when I was 4 years old and I boarded my first flight in Canada to move to South Africa. I’ll never forget the excitement of navigating through an airport and boarding an aircraft for a journey to another country. This love for air travel deepened as I grew older and regularly returned to Canada every couple of years.
I was in such awe of the aviation industry that I have vivid memories of spending hours on flights watching the flight attendants at work. I remember informing my parents that I’d like to work as a cabin crew one day, but as I reached high school I concluded that I would not enjoy doing this job for the rest of my life and pushed it out of my mind to look at other career paths.
The truth is I knew from a young age that the aviation industry is where I’d like to work, but I didn’t have exposure to many sides of it. Naturally, since flight attendants interact with passengers and I often traveled on board, I was aware of what their job entailed. However, I didn’t know how many other careers one could have in aviation that are not directly visible to passengers.
It was only at the age of 16 that I met a girl who had dreams of becoming a pilot. Hearing this made me realize that women could be pilots too and I knew that I would like to train as a pilot one day. I actually enjoyed the idea of flying so much that I started my training while I was in high school and completed my Private Pilot’s License (PPL) when I was in University.
So why did I become a flight attendant after all?
I was 22 years old when I finished my University degree and suffered from a streak of bad luck when the South African Airways Cadet Pilot Program (for which I was a finalist in the selection process) was cancelled due to insufficient funds. It was a tough time in the aviation industry because all the cadet programs in South Africa and Canada (that I knew of) had been suspended for financial reasons. Without the funds to complete my Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL) I decided to write my CPL theory exams in South Africa and then find a job to finance the practical part of my training.
Although I had an Architecture degree, I decided to rather dive into work in the aviation industry so I could learn more about the world I was building my career in. Especially since I was already 22 and would be competing for jobs with younger graduates who had enrolled in full time pilot training courses after completing school.
I came across the perfect opportunity when I found out about the cabin crew jobs in the Middle East- I could fund my pilot training while working temporarily in my childhood dream job. I was offered a job the first time I went to an assessment day and within 2 months my entire life changed when I moved countries to start my new job.
So what did I enjoy most about being a flight attendant?
I started the job at a point in my life when I wanted to experience different cultures by living in a foreign country. Becoming a cabin crew made this possible since I had to relocate to the Middle East and had the opportunity to explore a different way of life. Having grown up in the Western world, moving to the Middle East was a big adjustment and made me aware of how different other cultures can be.
What about the dream lifestyle most people associate with the job - having breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in China and dinner in America during the course of a single week? While cabin crew life isn’t exactly as exciting as that, I was able to travel the world and saw a range of cities that I could never have hoped to see if I hadn’t taken the job. The more destinations I visited, the longer my travel list became because my eyes were opened to new destinations. I quickly realized that some of the most popular tourist destinations are not necessarily the best. So I’d rather spend a night eating local food in Indonesia than going back to a major attraction such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Besides experiencing different cultures by flying to various countries, the airline I worked for recruited employees from around the world: I had the opportunity to work in a multicultural environment which taught me a lot about how crucial clear communication is in the aviation environment, especially since English was usually not most people’s first language.
What exactly do I mean by multicultural? Imagine arriving at the briefing for your flight duty where you meet your colleagues for the first time (since Middle Eastern airlines have thousands of pilots and flight attendants), and each team member is from a different country. I don’t mean different countries on the same continent, I mean different countries from every 'corner' of the world. An example of the nationalities of an 8 member crew could be: South African, Chinese, Indian, Icelandic, Argentinian, Canadian, Moroccan and Australian.
I now have friends of different nationalities all over the world and am more respectful to other cultures than I would have been without so much interaction.
Another part of being a cabin crew that I thoroughly enjoyed was walking together as a crew through the airport in our uniform when we arrived at the destination. This stereotypically glamorous part of the job captured my attention when I was a child, admiring the crew on the way to their duties, and will forever remain one of the highlights of my day while working. Although from now on, I won’t be wearing my high heels and cabin crew scarf, I’ll be walking through the terminal in my pilot uniform with the rest of my team. And this was all made possible because of my chance to work as a flight attendant.
What about the benefit of cabin crew life of being able to get products from all over the world? Where should I buy the best face masks? South Korea of course. What about special moisturizer for my face? Straight to my local shop in South Africa. In the mood for a shopping spree? Let’s go to Chicago this month.
Needless to say having easy access to the rest of the world definitely spoiled me because as soon as I resigned from my job, I returned to a ‘normal’ life of having to choose only from the selection offered in the country I was living in at the time. It was disappointing but manageable when I moved back to South Africa immediately after resigning. However, when I moved to Belgium I longed for the days when I could request a flight to a destination to pick up products instead of facing the challenge of standing in an isle full of face moisturizers I had never seen before, in a language I couldn't understand.
Lastly, what I enjoyed about my couple of years working in the cabin was learning what pilot’s should and shouldn’t say in briefings when they meet their crew for the first time. I believe that many pilots completely underestimate the challenges cabin crew face on a daily basis. To be honest, I would have underestimated the job too if I hadn’t worked in the position for 2 years, so I am even more grateful for the opportunity to have worked in this position. It was hard work but the good definitely outweighed the bad.
That being said, I won’t deny that I faced several hardships during my flight attendant career. However, I choose to focus on the positive aspects and always recommend it as a job for others to try. Especially for those looking for a fast way to finance their pilot training. Becoming a cabin crew allowed me to move forward by fulfilling my dream to complete my pilot training, while living the dream life I imagined for myself when I was a child watching flight attendants walk through the terminal.
The views presented in this article are solely the author's based on available information at the time of writing. The purpose of this blog is to inform readers, not to provide professional advice. Readers are advised to research further and consult relevant professionals, such as flight training schools. Readers are cautioned when acting on information provided and assume all risk from such actions.